Guide for Grief, 2: Rodger Murchison and grief ministry

ROGER MURCHISON, author of Guide for Grief, prepares for a television interview about the launch of the book and online community of readers sharing ideas for grief ministry, which will expand through 2011-2012.Why read about grief?
Because everyone dies and, before that, everyone grieves.
We are helping!
ReadTheSpirit is proud to publish Guide for Grief: Help in Surviving the Stages of Grief and Bereavement after a Loss.” This book represents years of work by Georgia-based pastor Rodger Murchison, who earned his doctorate from Princeton Theological Seminary specializing in ministry with grieving families. His research into grief counseling now spans work in both American and British universities, including Oxford University. This week, we are publishing Guide for Grief; we encourage you to order a copy by clicking on the book cover below.

PART 1 in this introductory series is Editor David Crumm’s report on the importance of grief ministry.
PART 2, meet Rodger Murchison as he personally introductes Guide for Grief.
PART 3, coming soon, is our ReadTheSpirit author interview with Rodger Murchison.

Rodger Murchison’s
Own Introduction to
“Guide for Grief:
Help in surviving
the stages of grief
and bereavement
after a loss”

Timothy often took a lawn chair to the cemetery to sit by Sally’s grave and talk to her. He’d tell her what he had been doing and how much he loved her. He often left the cemetery in tears. They had been married 32 years. Two years after her death, Timothy still grieved her loss. The grief was understandable and even the frequent cemetery visits. Then, I discovered that he broke off every new relationship in his life and his cemetery visits were a time when he cleansed himself of guilt he felt for allowing new friends into his life. Something was wrong. Timothy was stuck in grief.

Millions of people seek out pastors and other counselors after the loss of loved ones, asking for help in moving through their journey with grief. Most stories are not as unusual as Timothy’s. Sometimes, people find themselves stuck in other phases of grief. After a heart-breaking loss, many people lash out in anger at God—a normal part of the grieving process—but some turn this anger into a mantra of woe. Their anger at God over their loss can spill into every area of their lives.

While the process of grieving varies widely, it does follow predictable patterns for most people. When the progression toward healing is obstructed, people need help in getting unstuck.

Most Americans have heard that there are “stages” to grief, typically referring to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ landmark five-stage process: denial, anger, bargaining, guilt or depression and acceptance. But most people are unaware of the ever-growing body of research into grief. There are other ways of describing and engaging with the predictable patterns of grief. There are many well-tested techniques that can be helpful. A person who is stuck in grief may be assuming that Kübler-Ross’ five phases are set in stone—a staircase out of grief chiseled out for everyone in all situations. If they find themselves looping back through phases, or skipping others, they may become discouraged that they are not correctly marching up the steps. We can make a big difference in people’s lives simply by helping families understand that there are various models for grief and our journey is not as clear-cut as climbing a staircase.

Because Americans fear aging and dread the inevitable truth of death—few of us learn about or prepare for the end that comes to all of us. Professionals have developed a wide array of counseling techniques to help people move through this universal journey of grief. In this book, I explain a number of these techniques for general readers—such as “reframing.” Using this technique, people are invited to focus on their loss from a fresh perspective. This does not bring our loved one back to life. What changes are the ways we look at our loss, understand the loss, and respond to the loss. Just as a painting takes on new dimensions when given a new frame, people who reframe their grief can discover new sources of strength.

This example of reframing is both wise psychological practice and a truth deeply rooted in scripture. The author of Hebrews tells us: “If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desired a better country.” (Hebrews 11:15-16) Instead of bemoaning the loss of comforts in their previous land (as the Moses-led Israelites did many years later), the writer of Hebrews is telling us that Abraham’s people trusted that God was leading and blessing them. For Abraham, the “promised land” was more than a new place in which to dwell, it was also a reality of mind and heart—reframing life in the belief that God had called him to a significant new life. Traumatic moments change people’s lives. They change people’s views of God, of themselves and of life. Rather than battling to resist those changes, reframing frees a person to grow through them. Abraham understood that timeless truth—although he obviously did not coin the term we use today to describe it.

After the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis wrote poignantly in his book A Grief Observed
that grief painfully opens up our lives to fresh insights about our past and fresh hopes for the future. We mourn our loss, but grief also leads us to new vistas.

This book is designed to nudge these travelers in healthy directions, tested through the millennia by people of faith and undergirded by years of research into identifying and teaching these techniques to men and women. You will find cutting-edge scholarship referenced throughout this book—and a list of recommended readings from those scholars at the end of this book. You also will find helpful references from scripture. In these chapters, I suggest many techniques you can use, and I close each chapter with a prayer, inviting you to join me in these prayers. I welcome you to print them out and place them on your dinner table, fold them into a frequently read book or hang them in your home as a reminder.

Over time, you will find more resources at a website we will be building:
As we launch the book, that URL initially takes readers to the main ReadTheSpirit online magazine, where our introductory stories are appearing. Eventually, a larger GuideForGrief website will publish online resources including a small-group study guide, plus suggestions of helpful organizations and websites. Although Americans fear death, congregational leaders will discover that organizing a small-group series around this book—or the formation of a grief-ministry support group that starts with a study of this book—will prove to be a potent outreach program in your community.

We welcome your ideas and questions at our website. I look forward to hearing from you online.

(Email us at [email protected] with questions or suggestions.)

Roger B. Murchison

How to order Guide for Grief

E-EDITIONS OF GUIDE FOR GRIEF: Soon, Guide for Grief will be available for all E-readers.

GUIDE FOR GRIEF: Visit Amazon to order your copy of Guide for Grief, Help in Surviving the Stages of Grief and Bereavement after a Loss.

GUIDE FOR GRIEF (Deluxe Color Edition): Soon, Guide for Grief also will be available in a full-color edition, featuring 10 inspirational, full-page paintings by Sara Pollock Searle designed to enrich readers’ reflections on overcoming grief.

Rodger Murchison’s speaking schedule

RODGER MURCHISON speaks widely about helping families survive grief, based on his decades of experience working with families and researching the latest findings on grief ministry. He has appeared on television and radio, has written for national magazines—and has lectured at universities and national conferences on ministry. He will return to lecture at Oxford University in 2012. While Rodger is comfortable in professional and academic settings, his welcoming approach to sharing helpful stories also make him popular with audiences of families looking for practical and inspirational ideas in coping with grief. He also has many years of experience in helping to develop grief-ministry workshops. To inquire about his speaking schedule, email us at [email protected]

Originally published at, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

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